Monsoon moisture drenches local mountains, ignites fires


 When the skies over the nearby mountains darken and the winds swirl as they did several days this past week, that’s Kaweah Country fire weather. This monsoon weather pattern and its daily buildup of thunderheads is typical for August.  And heavy downpours usually put a damper on most of the lightning’s effects.

But this year, it’s monsoon season in June, and the four-year drought is delivering some of that energy with little or no moisture. The end result is spot fires in numerous locations.

On Wednesday, June 10, by late afternoon the down-canyon winds swirled but delivered little rain to the foothills or in Three Rivers. In the Giant Forest, it poured heavily with hail so thick it looked like snow. 

Rivers flowed down the roadways and motorists reported having to drive around numerous rockslides. There was so much rain in the brief downpours that the Sunset Rock Prescribed Burn scheduled for Thursday, June 11, was cancelled. 

In Mineral King, there were late-afternoon thunderstorms on four consecutive days with the heaviest rain reported Wednesday, June 10.

Within an hour of sunset, numerous lightning strikes were reported causing fires on the North Fork at the base of Shepherd’s Peak and another blaze in the Monarch Wilderness of Giant Sequoia National Monument. Firefighters expect more fires to be reported in areas where strikes were known to have occurred.

Monsoon weather in the Sierra Nevada is characterized by late afternoon thunderstorms, occasional cloud bursts, gusty high winds, picturesque cloudscapes especially at sunset, and elevated fire danger because of the chance for dry lightning. After a monsoon event, the air is humid and smells like rain and air quality is vastly improved.   

 The current monsoon pattern will continue throughout the weekend, and there are five consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures in the forecast. 

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